From 10 a.m. to just after midnight, day two of Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2014 brought the longest list of established acts of its four days. And that was just on the main stage.
Of course, quantity alone doesn’t make something memorable. Day two also featured a very diverse lineup, with everything from singer/songwriters to a symphony to flat out rock and roll to whet your musical palate.
Up first was upbeat bluegrass from Chatham County Line, followed by the amazing Aoife O’Donovan, whose voice sounded clear as a bell over the Town Park.
However, while those two acts were a big draw, over in Elks Park, Nederland’s Yonder Mountain String Band was playing on the workshop stage at noon with Nickel Creek fiddler Sara Watkins and mandolinist Sarah Jarosz. The park was packed to near overflowing for that lineup.
It proved a memorable set from a band that is currently looking to re-establish its lineup after the departure of Jeff Austin. Bassist Ben Kaufmann and guitarist Adam Aijala made frequent jest of having singers of the caliber of Watkins and Jarosz playing with them, asking both to teach them how to sing. The five worked through a variety of traditional bluegrass songs. Watkins sang beautifully on “Hold What You Got,” and Kaufmann answered by stepping up on “Rag Mama Rag.” The hour-long set ended with a raveup on “Shady Grove.”
Fans who hurried from the Elks Park stage back to Town Park were able to hear Keller Williams and the Travelin’ McCourys (Del’s band sans Del) work through a variety of fun covers, including a gorgeous take on the Grateful Dead’s “Candyman” and a bluegrass style blast on Katy Perry’s “E.T.” It was fun to see Ronnie and Robbie McCoury, Jason Carter, and Alan Bartram onstage in something other than the suits they wear when playing with Del. The five even took on a disco tune, turning Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” into a bluegrass song.
Jason Isbell, who used to be in Drive By Truckers, brought twangy Southern rock and roll to the main stage next, including the 2010 Americana Music Awards Song of the Year “Alabama Pines” and an old Truckers’ tune, “Decoration Day,” as well as a fiery take on his current single, “Super 8.”
The final afternoon set was by Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott. The duo, who recorded what they called “an accidental record” in 2000 that ended up being a hit, just released a new record, “Memories and Moments,” and spotlighted several songs from it, including the title track. Also up was a heartfelt take on their song “Long Time Gone” from their first record, a song later popularized by the Dixie Chicks on their record “Home.”
There was a 45-minute break after to allow time to set up for the most unique set of the weekend, a pairing of banjo phenom Béla Fleck with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. It sounds strange on paper, but the combination, which at one point played 50 minutes straight through the three movements of Fleck’s composition “The Imposter,” worked like a charm. The CSO got a chance to play to the crowd on its own, delivering a beautiful version of Mozart’s “Jupiter” under the direction of conductor Scott O’Neill. Fleck returned to the stage for an encore, and also brought out the “King of Telluride,” Sam Bush, as they worked through an old Strength in Numbers tune.
The first headliner of the evening was the David Rawlings Machine, which included Rawlings and Gillian Welch. On mandolin was Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, who also played fiddle on one song, while Willie Watson played guitar and fiddle. Punch Brothers’ bassist Paul Kowert was the final cog, and Punch Brothers’ fiddler Gabe Witcher sat in for the entire set. Welch sang a soulful version of “Wayside,” while Rawlings seamlessly led the band into a jam on “This Land is Your Land,” including the original lyrics, in a mid-song jam on “I Hear Them All.” On the encore, Jones started the familiar mandolin riff of “Going to California,” which was sung by Rawlings and Welch to the delight of the crowd.
Steve Winwood, showing no signs of age or wear on his beautiful voice, closed the second day with an awesome set of rock and roll that touched on songs from his careers with Blind Faith, Traffic, the Spencer Davis Group, and his solo career. One highlight was the blistering take on “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” that jammed into “Empty Pages.” Winwood alternated between organ and guitar, playing a blistering solo on the latter during “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” and even picked up a mandolin for a soulful take on “Back in the High Life.”
Once again, for those who hadn’t had enough, there were plenty of Nightgrass options. Aoife O’Donovan and Chatham County Line played at Fly Me to the Moon Saloon, while Yonder Mountain String Band and Ronnie McCoury and Jason Carter were over at the Sheridan Opera House.
I caught the tail end of Greensky Bluegrass at the Palm Theatre, where the band ripped through a long jam on “Don’t Lie.” On the encore of the Bruce Springsteen song “Atlantic City,” mandolinist Paul Hoffman and Dobro player Anders Beck worked through a call-and-response solo to great effect.
TIM O’BRIEN AND DARRELL SCOTT SETLIST
Climbing Up a Mountain, Long Time Gone, Senor, Memories and Moments, Just One Drink, A House of Gold, It All Comes Down to Love, Free Again, Dance You Hippie Dance, Colorado, ?, Mansion on the Hill, Keep Your Dirty Lights On, Time to Talk to Joseph, Fiddler Jones, Gentle on My Mind, With a Memory Like Mine
DAVID RAWLINGS MACHINE SETLIST
The Monkey and the Engineer, Hot Corn Cold Corn, Keep It Clean, Wayside, To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High), Bells of Harlem It’s Too Easy, Ruby, He Will Set Your Fields on Fire, Sweet Tooth, I Hear Them All -> This Land Is Your Land -> I Hear Them All, Midnight Special, Method Acting -> Cortez the Killer, Queen Jane Approximately, E: Going to California
STEVE WINWOOD SETLIST
The Sky is Crying, I’m a Man, Fly, Can’t Find My Way Home, Medicated Goo, Low Spark of High Heeled Boys -> Empty Pages, Light Up or Leave Me Alone, Dear Mr. Fantasy, Back in the High Life Again, Gimme Some Lovin’
Dylan Langille is a Fort Collins-based photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his photos here.